As Demolition Looms, a Race to Preserve 1954 ‘Memory’ Mural

An effort to preserve artist Julien Binford’s mural, which dates back to the 1950s, is gaining steam. | Photo by Christian Miles.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Preservationists, City Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office, and a developer are looking to conserve a piece of 1950s New York: Julien Binford’s mural at a former bank on the corner of W. 14th St. and Sixth Ave.

Binford’s mural — “A Memory of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue” — graces the lobby of a now-closed HSBC branch, according to websites GothamToGo and New York Songlines. Binford painted the mural in 1954 for what was then the Greenwich Savings Bank, according to Songlines.

Built in 1953, the one-story commercial building at 101 W. 14th St. — also known by the address 531 Sixth Ave. — is slated for demolition, according to the project developer, Gemini Rosemont, and streeteasy.com (city records show that in April, the building was sold for $42.4 million).

Brian Ferrier, vice president of development for Gemini Rosemont, said a timetable has yet to be set for demolition. The developer is still in the design phase, he said by phone, but, in general, there will be retail space and condos.

Regarding the mural, Ferrier said, “We’re investigating a couple different options.”

Andrew Cronson, a junior at New York University, said on his way from class to Penn Station to catch a train back to Long Island, he would pass by the abandoned bank.

“Peering in through the windows, the interior was mostly gutted, but this 150 [foot] mural stood out prominently among the gritty rubble and dust,” Cronson said by email, noting that the building was designed by Halsey, McCormack & Helmer.

In late October, Cronson said he reached out to a number of advocacy groups — including Laurence Frommer of Save Chelsea, who “has been instrumental in banding together a task force to address the preservation of this work.”

“We think it’s significant artwork,” Frommer said by phone. “It reflects the history of the area. It seems to capture the glory days of Sixth Avenue.”

Save Chelsea contacted Johnson’s office, Erik Bottcher, the councilmember’s chief of staff, said by phone. Bottcher noted the developer has been asking galleries if they were interested in the mural, but got no takers, so they’re considering preserving and keeping the mural for themselves.

Paul Groncki, also of Save Chelsea, suggested to Johnson’s office that Jamestown might be interested in taking the mural, Bottcher said. Bottcher has been in touch with the investment and management company, but, as of now, they are “waiting in the wings,” he said.

Jamestown declined to comment.

The former bank at the corner of W. 14th St. and Sixth Ave. will be demolished at some point, giving rise to retail space and condos. | Photo by Christian Miles.

Frommer of Save Chelsea said that whoever takes the mural, he hopes that “it is done properly with the right conservation mindset,” and preserved “in perpetuity.”

Binford was born in Virginia in 1908, and died shy of his 89th birthday, according to Wikipedia. He created artwork in both Virginia and New York, and “about 37 paintings for the Works in Progress Administration Federal Art Project” between 1938 and 1940, according to a 2015 Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

Cronson said the mural at the former bank “depicts a jovial street scene in panoramic form of what this area would have looked like in the late 1800s back when there was an elevated train and riders used horses as a mode of transportation.”

“It would be a tragedy if this mural is demolished,” Johnson said in an email statement. “Losing it would really be losing a piece of our history. We are working frantically to find a new home for it. We hope to succeed at this in the next few days.”

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